In the changing world of work, employment in the care sector is rapidly growing. Cooperatives are emerging as providers of services and generators of employment in this sector. Currently, they remain little understood and need to be better documented in comparison with public and other private providers of services.

Care economy encompasses the different aspects related to the provision of care – like child care, elderly care, care for those with illnesses and disabilities, and domestic work, among others. Often care provision is unpaid and undertaken by women. Moreover even when it is paid, it is often undervalued and undertaken by poor women including migrant women, who step in to cover for care shortages in higher-income countries with ageing populations.[1]

As the demand for care services increases, the need for innovative solutions also rises both in the provision of affordable and accessible care and the quality of work for care workers. Provision of care through cooperative enterprises is one of the emerging and potentially effective means of delivering quality care, as highlighted in a recent ILO report[2]. Undertaken as part of a larger initiative, the study included an online survey and a series of indepth interviews with key stakeholders and practitioners from both within the care sector as well as the cooperative movement from around the world.

Based on the responses from the survey participants as well as the interviews, it seems that as cooperative provision of care is on the rise. Over 37 per cent of survey respondents reported an increase in the number of cooperatives that provide care and in the number of beneficiaries receiving care through cooperatives. Furthermore, close to a half of survey respondents had witnessed a rise in community demand for care through cooperatives over the last decade.

The interviewees underlined that as member-owned and community-driven enterprises based on values and principles, cooperatives providing care have the advantage of being people-centred alternatives to public and other private care service providers. However, if cooperatives are to step in to play a more central role in care provision, they need an enabling environment that is supportive of the cooperative model. Collaboration across public, community and private institutions is key to scale up and replicate good practices.

Many respondents to the survey also reported that cooperatives are well-regarded as employers in their communities. The study suggests that cooperatives generate access to relatively good terms and conditions of work in the care economy (e.g., access to benefits, bargaining power, and regularized hours), particularly for women workers. However, challenges remain in issuance of formal contracts, part-time nature of work, and salary levels. Hence cooperatives and their support organizations will need to reflect critically and act on improving their labour practices in these areas of concern.

The survey respondents called for evidence-based data on cooperatives in the care economy in order to facilitate the understanding on the social and economic impact of cooperatives, especially in comparison to other models. In follow up to this conclusion, and in order to advance the understanding the ILO will be issuing another report in time for the International Women’s Day that reviews the literature and documents select case studies on cooperative provision of care services.

For more information, contact coop@ilo.org

[1] See for instance ILO 2016 The future of labour supply: Demographics, migration, unpaid work. The Future of Work Centenary Initiative, Issue Note Series 2. Available at http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/future-of-work/WCMS_534204/lang–en/index.htm

[2] See ILO 2016 Global Mapping of the Provision of Care through Cooperatives: Survey and Interview Findings. Available at http://www.ilo.org/empent/units/cooperatives/WCMS_457286/lang–en/index.htm